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What is Grace?

Immaculate Conception with Saints, Piero di Cosimo, 1495

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible, we are saved by grace alone.  But, what is grace?  What does saved by grace alone mean?

I must admit that I cannot do any better a job explaining what grace is than what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on it, nor the simpler Baltimore Catechism.  So please consult these links for explanations from  genuine writers and theologians.  However, often we learn better first from a friend in common speech than a formally written text.  So, here we go, my friend.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm

http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/lesson09.html

To understand grace, first we must understand who we are.  We, humans, are souls first and foremost.  We are souls tethered in time and space by our earthly bodies.  Similarly, angels (God’s creations before us humans), are souls as well, but in contrast, they do not have bodies and thus are not bound in time nor space, similar in that way to God.

Grace is a share in God’s life; it is a free gift to our souls from Him.  There are two kinds of grace, actual grace and sanctifying grace.  Actual grace is an unmerited favor that God bestows upon us by His generosity, like what we mean when saying, “By the grace of God we made it to the airport on time.”   The other kind of grace, sanctifying grace is what I’d like to focus on.  In the Bible, this kind of grace, or a soul in the state of this kind of grace, is often referred to as being or having Eternal Life.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1562

The angels were all created in a state of grace, and were living in harmony with God in Heaven, until a third of them, lead by the angel of light Lucifer (also known as Satan), chose against God and were cast into Hell.  The fallen angels, being creations of a higher order than humans, were damned immediately for all eternity.  It is these fallen angels who are the masters of evil.

The souls of our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created with sanctifying grace, a share of God’s life, dwelling inside.  Their souls were alive in God.  Like the angels, they too had a perfect union with Him.  They were created in a state of Original Justification.  However, they were beguiled by the Serpent (a disguise of the fallen angel Satan), and chose of their own free will to disobey God’s one rule for them.  They ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge knowing full well that God had warned them they would die if they did so.  When God punished Adam and Eve afterward, their bodies did not die but it was their souls that died.  They lost the grace in their souls they had been created with.  They no longer had God dwelling in their souls.  They were now separated from Him.

The Fall of Man, Michelangelo,

Furthermore, their children would also be created in a state of separation; the souls of their children would be created without grace, without God’s life, dwelling inside.  This is what we call Original Sin.  This does not mean humans are created evil, for God does not create anything in a state of evil.  All of us offspring of Eve are simply not created in a state of grace, not in an automatic friendship with God, the way Adam, Eve and the angels had been.

Without grace in our souls, without God dwelling in our souls, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The gates of Heaven had been closed after the fall of Adam and Eve.  However!  God took pity on us lowly humans, and instead of casting us to hell immediately, He promised us a Savior – someone to restore our souls with God.  When Christ defeated death on His Cross, when He died for our sins and Resurrected, He reopened the gates of Heaven.  He made Heaven attainable.  It is Christ that brings us the grace our souls need in order to be restored and in order to enter Heaven.

We first receive sanctifying grace in our Baptism, which is also known as regeneration.  This is why Baptism is so very, very important to all humans.  God uses an element of His creation, water, as a vehicle to apply Christ’s saving grace that our souls need to be “reborn”; to become alive again in God and to be eligible for Heaven.

The Last Supper, Leonardo Di Vinci

Moreover, we receive grace through the Eucharist.  When we partake of the Eucharist, we are partaking of Jesus’s body, blood, soul and divinity.  While God uses water in Baptism to apply Christ’s grace to our souls, it is through His creations of bread and wine that God continues to feed our souls more of Christ’s grace during our earthly lives.

When we choose to sin, whether it is mortal or venial, we adversely affect the grace in our souls.  In a venial sin, we remain in a state of grace, but our souls are just a bit ill or injured.  In a mortal sin (a sin of grave matter done in full knowledge and with full consent, like Adam’s and Eve’s) the grace in our souls is actually lost – the way the angels, and Adam and Eve lost their grace.

However, when we approach Christ in the Sacrament of Confession with genuine and contrite sorrow, another one of God’s creations, a human, specifically a priest, is used to restore grace in our souls, whether we’re in a state of mortal or venial sin.  It is a wonder God is so patient and forgiving toward us humans, but let us be thankful He is!

In a closely related side note, I would like to briefly mention what the Immaculate Conception of Mary means in this context.  Jesus, as the second Adam, and being God made man, of course came to this earth in a perfect state of grace (not having been created, but simply made incarnate).  Also, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the second Eve, was given the privilege of being created in the same state as her predecessor, Eve.  Her Immaculate Conception means she was created with God’s grace already dwelling within her soul, in view of the merits of her Son, Jesus.

The topics of Justification and Sanctification are natural follow ups to this discussion of grace, but we’ll stop here today.  I hope perhaps this explanation has helped some readers of Catholic Sistas understand these topics, as it’s not always easy to understand!  I leave you with some Church Father quotes, as they are better and holier writers than I’ll ever be.

St. Justin Martyr in A.D. 151

In his First Apology talks about persons seeking to become Christians and quotes Scripture:

Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” John 3:5 Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” Isaiah 1:16-20

St. Augustine in A.D.412

In The Merits and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants he explains the necessity of Baptism and the Eucharist and quotes Scripture:

The Christians of Carthage have an excellent name for the sacraments, when they say that baptism is nothing else than “salvation,” and the sacrament of the body of Christ nothing else than “life.” Whence, however, was this derived, but from that primitive, as I suppose, and apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life? So much also does Scripture testify, according to the words which we already quoted. For wherein does their opinion, who designate baptism by the term salvation, differ from what is written: He saved us by the washing of regeneration?” Titus 3:5 or from Peter’s statement:The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us?” 1 Peter 3:21 And what else do they say who call the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper life, than that which is written:I am the living bread which came down from heaven;” John 6:51 and The bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world;” John 6:51 and Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you?” John 6:53 If, therefore, as so many and such divine witnesses agree, neither salvation nor eternal life can be hoped for by any man without baptism and the Lord’s body and blood, it is vain to promise these blessings to infants without them.

 St. John Chrysostom in A.D. 388

In The Priesthood he speaks of how priests make possible the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confession for our Salvation, and quotes Scripture:

For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them,Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Matthew 18:18 They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained?” John 20:23 What authority could be greater than this?The Father has committed all judgment to the Son?” John 5:22 But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. … For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?

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Splendid Sundays – He Is Risen!

He is risen!

Alleluia Alleluia!!!

From all of the Catholic Sistas contributors, we hope you have a blessed Easter. 🙂

We’d like to leave you with an interesting story of a Eucharistic miracle witnessed by Pope Francis.

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Merry Christmas!!

Today is the day our Lord is born – Alleluia!! Scripture for Christmas can be found at the USCCB’s website.

In the same spirit as Sundays, we are spending time with family and celebrating the day the Lord has made, and in particular, that He has sent us our Savior, His Son, Jesus Christ!

We want to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and hope that you will continue to keep us in your prayers as we continue to pray for all of you and your intentions.

 

 

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Barack Obama as Lord and Savior

lord and savior
A painting in a college art gallery that depicts President Barack Obama as Jesus Christ.

Actor and musician Jamie Foxx recently made a shocking statement. At the Soul Train Awards Show 2012 he gave thanks to God and then went on to thank “Our Lord and Savior, Barack Obama”. After recovering my ability to breathe, I pondered this statement and came away with an obvious conclusion. Our society is not only going over the Economic Cliff; we have already succumbed to the Moral Cliff. A few generations ago this type of statement would have caused zealous moral outrage. No, I take that back. A few generations ago this statement would not have been made at all – because the citizens of former times would not have thought of a mere mortal in such a way. Right?

Actually history shows otherwise. There have been many emperors and rulers in ancient times who claimed godly characteristics for themselves. In early Egyptian times Pharaoh was seen as a deity by the citizenry and the coins minted during the reign of Roman emperor, Nero, claimed him to be the ‘Savior of the world’.  At the time that the book of Revelation was most likely written, Emperor Domitian was addressed as Dominus et Deus noster, meaning ‘Our Lord and God’. Since only the Triune God is divine and Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of the world, such titles are glaringly sacrilegious. Despite such blasphemy, however, the faithful people of God have continued to recognize Him and His sole kingship.

It’s apparent that these sacrilegious trends have been with us throughout history. Just as our first parents lost their bearings in paradise in an effort to attain godly status, we can see that a long line of our forbearers have struggled similarly. Now it appears to be our turn. Somehow our moral compass has been skewed and south is where north used to be. Sure, it hasn’t happened to everyone but the pendulum has definitely swung wildly left. Is it hopeless then? Are we to conclude that that’s just the way of the world and go blindly on our way – all the while shaking our heads at those heathens?

Not for the people of God. The cause of the eclipse of moral reasoning is not lack of opportunity or direction. After all, the Church, in all of her wisdom as well as Holy Scripture, has been a steadfast guide – freely available to us. Catastrophic decisions have been made because temptation accompanies Free Will. We have the option of choosing right or wrong and yet, too often, sinful choices appear more attractive. What we need to realize, then, is that the solution to the problem begins within: within our hearts, within our families, within our churches, and within our communities. Each and every one of us has an important role to play but we can’t begin to become effective until we look to our own failings.

Some things are more important than others

Once we begin to recognize the significance of our priorities, we will begin to be an effective part of the Army of God. Only He reigns supreme and there is no one above Him. No matter how many false gods are thrust upon us by society our faith in the One True God will remain unshaken. When we see a leader give himself godly attributes we will clearly see truth and will live and serve accordingly.  We will see the intrinsic value of others – spouse, children, friends, and humanity as a whole. Only after we have satisfied the greatest commandment will we concern ourselves with self. It’s imperative to have our priorities straight if we are to be successful and worthy people of God.

It takes the entire team

As the Church Militant we are also not here simply to ‘go along to get along’. The part we play in the whole scheme of things is vital – not just for our salvation but the salvation of many. We are blessed to have the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering as our allies. While they fervently pray and intercede, we are the foot soldiers leading others (and ourselves) onto the righteous path. While we must be aware of these worldly distractions to successfully fight the modern day demons, we should choose our weapons wisely. Without the proper tools – tactical (catechesis), direction (conscience), and strength (sacraments) we will not be able to face the formidable enemy (Satan).

In the end, each of us will be responsible for our own soul. Eternity will depend on what we did to make way for the true Lord – Jesus the Christ. Did we arm ourselves with catechesis, prayer, just acts, charity, and true concern for His Kingdom? Did we sacramentally fortify our souls with Penance and Eucharist? Did we act in charity? Only when we recognize the importance of not just the destination, but also the journey, will we come to know the true joy of eternal life. We are responsible for our own souls but in keeping with Christ’s second greatest commandment we must also love our neighbor as ourselves and to provide guidance by example. Only then will the compass right itself and the path to heaven become apparent.

What is your battle plan? Do you have wisdom to share? We’d love to know your thoughts. After all, we’re all in this together!

VIDEO – Obama absolves Thanksgiving turkey with the Sign of the Cross

Jamie Foxx Calls Obama ‘Our Lord And Savior’ During Soul Train Awards 2012 Show

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Thanksgiving in the Eucharist: The New Testament

Última Cena, Leonard Da Vinci

Last year at Thanksgiving, I shared with Catholic Sistas my love for the Scripture of John 6, and how clearly the Holy Spirit teaches us about Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.  As I am always learning, this year has brought me even closer to the Eucharist, in ways I didn’t see coming.  Today, I wish to share something that has revolutionized my faith.

I live in the Bible Belt of Texas, and thus I have become greatly influenced by our Sola-Scriptura brothers and sisters in Christ that the Bible is to be paramount in the life of a follower of Christ.  After all, reading Sacred Scripture is reading the very words of the Holy Spirit Himself, so a Christian seeking clarity naturally turns the pages of the Bible.

When focusing on the issue of Authority in my Catholic Apologetics hobby, I’ve often ruminated on the fact that Christ never penned any Sacred Scripture.  He could have, He was fully human, and He knew there would be Scriptures of the New Testament, so why not contribute?  During the Gospel reading at each mass, we could be reading from the Gospel of Jesus in addition to ( or even instead of) Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and that would be pretty awesome.  But, no, God saw it fit, in His perfect plan for our Salvation, that the Holy Spirit work only through ordinary men to leave us His Written Word, and this is as it should be.  I have also ruminated much on Christ’s Ascension, and how not only did He not pen us any Sacred Scripture, but that He left some men behind to start His Church.  Until recently, my ruminations on the subject ended there.  Christ left us leaders of His Church.

But… this conclusion was very short sided.

Christ did leave us a New Testament.

Christ left us the Eucharist.

In 1 Corinthians 11 the Holy Spirit records for us one of several accounts of the Last Supper.  The night before He was sacrificed, Christ presided over the Passover feast (a ritual that is long, very structured and very, very well known by the Jews), and He changed it up part way through, to introduce us to a new ritual.  Of the blessed and broken bread, He says, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” and of the blessed cup He says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  Then at the hand of St. Paul, the Holy Spirit goes on to tell us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we hear Jesus more explicitly say that the cup is actually the blood of the New Covenant, that He was to shed on the Cross.

Christ left us the Eucharist as our Testament to the New Covenant.

Wow.

Christ left us the Eucharist as our Testament to the New Covenant.

In His Lecture, “The Fourth Cup”, Scott Hahn points out that during the Last Supper, Christ up and leaves after the third cup of the Passover meal, not having completed the fourth and final cup of the meal, instead saying He will not drink again of the vine until the Kingdom of God is at hand.  He goes to pray, is arrested, and crucified.  In the Gospel of John, chapter 19, it is recorded for us that Christ called out, “I thirst.” And He is offered a sponge soaked with wine.  After He partakes of the wine, His Fourth Cup, He proclaims, “It is finished.”  He transforms His Crucifixion into His Sacrifice, into the New Covenant.  He is the Perfect Passover Lamb sacrificed for our Salvation.  As the Passover sacrifice and meal saved the Israelites from the Angel of Death, Christ’s Sacrifice and His Meal, the Eucharist, save us from death.  Because the Eucharist is truly Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, our souls receive the Eternal Life of Christ’s blood shed on the Cross.

As my appreciation for the Real Presence of the Eucharist has evolved, so has my appreciation for the Mass.  The Catholic Church has uniquely persisted in offering the Eucharist at every Mass, not only every Sunday, but every single day of the week (except Good Friday, of course).  This requires the men Christ left behind at His Ascension, who He later filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  And I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit provided us Sacred Scripture to explain the Eucharist, and to be read in the Liturgy of the Word every day in preparation for the New Testament at Holy Mass.

It is unusually fitting that in America we understand Thanksgiving to be a celebration of a meal shared between the Pilgrims and Native Indians, while similarly as Catholics we understand the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist (means “Thanksgiving”), to be a meal shared between Christ (dying on the Cross for our sins) and us poor sinners.

Thank you, Lord, for our Daily Bread, and may God Bless America!